But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you start an account, why do I think that Twitter is important for writers?
Publishing call outs
Most of my students are just getting started out as writers. They’re told to submit their work and try to get published, but often finding places that will accept work is hard, especially when emerging writers need emerging publications to give them a go. Most publications and competitions — new, old, and in between — will advertise via social media. If you’re not involved, you’re not going to see opportunities.
Writing might be a traditionally solo activity, but for emerging writers community is everything.
For a start, having a community around to ask questions, to celebrate your wins, commiserate when you get rejected, and keep an eye out for competitions and opportunities that you might have missed is amazing. No one understands what it’s like to be a writer quite like a writer, and being a part of the community is incredible. I teach university students who kind of get all of this as in-built support system while they’re in their degrees which is lovely, but when their studies end a lot of them feel that the writing life is really lonely.
Making ties with other writers via Twitter is easy and it doesn’t involve any of the awkward social interactions that meeting people in person often comes with. All you have to do is make sure you have a username and bio that marks you as a writer, follow them on Twitter, and answer them when they say things that are interesting to you.
Being an active part of the community will help you build followers who are genuine and engaged with your content (if you’re producing any). And demonstrating that you’re an active part of the community can also help your career. For me, having conversations with other writers and editors via Twitter was what got me my first job in the publishing industry. It wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t engaged in the community because that first employer trawled my feed to learn more about me.
My posts are really targeted to emerging writers, so this might be a long way down the track. But here’s the thing about being an author: even when you get the elusive publishing deal and your book hits shelves, the work isn’t done. If you want to write another book and have a career, you need to help support the marketing of your book and the cheapest and most effective way of doing this is via social media. Yes, you can wait til the ink is drying on your book contract to sign up to Twitter, but isn’t it better to have a bunch of people who like you, who are invested in your work, and who are likely to not need much convincing in order to buy your book?
It’s hard to build a following on social media, but even harder to build a genuine one. If you start now, while the intent is just to build genuine connections, then it’s only going to benefit you in the long run.
But how do you get started?
Okay, so if I’ve convinced you to join Twitter, now what do you do with the dreaded ‘say something’ box?
When I first joined Twitter (*gulp* more than ten years ago now), there were a lot of people Tweeting out every thought into the world and that gave me anxiety. I started a private account so I could Tweet what I had for breakfast to people who weren’t going to get (too) pissed off at me for doing it, followed a bunch of people to watch what they were doing, and once I had an idea of what worked and didn’t work, I started a public account. If you’re like me and learn by watching first, then that’s not a bad way of doing it, and you don’t need to have two accounts, just go private for a start and then change to public when you’re ready.
But having a private account is a hard way to get involved in the community and that’s what I see as being of most value to writers.
So to take the community-based approach, when you set up your account, put a profile picture up straight away. It can be a stock image, your face, whatever you like. Just don’t leave it as the blank egg. For your first Tweet, say something about being a writer. ‘Hey, I’m a writer, here for the writing community.’ That way, if you follow a bunch of people before you’ve thought of anything else to say, they won’t block you for being a blank egg with no Tweets. If you set things up this way, you can take your time deciding what to post (or if you want to post).
Who do you follow?
I tell my students to follow writing accounts. They go for the publishers, the literary journals, writers they like, and anyone they know how is involved in the publishing industry. If they still look a bit scared, then I tell them to find my account and then go through who I follow. Of course, I’ve been on Twitter for a long time so I follow a lot of non-writing related accounts, but they can sort out the relevant from the irrelevant.
The cool thing about Twitter these days is that once you start following certain types of accounts, it’ll start suggesting more accounts in the same realms. This means you can then start discovering people to follow on your own.
And what do you post?
When you start to post, there are a few ways to go about it. Talk about your own writing: what you’re achieving, what you’re struggling with. Ask questions about your writing and reply to anyone who replies to you. You can also retweet anything that you find interesting, share any relevant or interesting links.
The marketing folks I talked about in my previous post will encourage people to ‘curate’ their social media content. Though I disagree with these people on lots of points, this is one that we agree on, and it’s easy with Twitter to curate your posts so they are mostly writing related. But, I think that as writers we need to remember that we’re not really selling anything (until our books come out), and that our aim is to meet people and build community and connection, so your posts should also contain you. Your followers will want to know who you are, what your interests are, what your life is like in order to build that genuine connection. You don’t need to — and shouldn’t — share everything online, but balance between curation and connection is essential.
I hope this has helped you think about the value of Twitter as a writer (or editor, or publisher), and given you a few tips to get started. If the post has raised any more questions, or you want to know about an aspect of Twitter that I haven’t covered, leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll write something for you in the coming weeks!
Next time I’ll be talking about my favourite social media platform for writers, Instagram.